Canadian researchers hope to soon be able to use brain waves to unlock doors and get access to bank accounts.
Some companies are already offering iris recognition systems that many countries want to put into biometric passports.
But Julie Thorpe, a researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa wants to take the idea much much further.
She says it is possible to do away with key cards, pin numbers and a litany of other security tools that allow people to retrieve bank money, access computer data or enter restricted buildings.
"A user would simply think their password," said Thorpe, who hopes to develop the first biometric security device to read your mind to authenticate users.
Her idea, yet to be proven viable for commercial application, assumes that brainwave signals, like fingerprints, vary slightly from person to person, even when they think alike.
"Everyone's brainwave signal is a bit different even when they think about the same thing. They're unique just like fingerprints," she told AFP.
While people may be tricked into giving up their passwords, smartcards may be lost or stolen, as can biometric templates stored on computers for comparing eye or fingerprint scans, so-called "passthoughts" are unique.
A user would only have to think up a different password and save it on a computer, Thorpe said, describing what would become the world's first changeable biometric security tool.
The doctoral student is working with leading Canadian security technology researcher Paul Van Oorschot in Ottawa to turn her idea into reality.
Her research builds on other efforts to develop rudimentary brain-computer interfaces to help paralyzed patients control their environment and communicate.
Whereas slight differences in brainwave patterns created difficulties for researchers trying to build universal tools that could translate thoughts into computer commands, these peculiarities make brainwaves ideal for security applications, Thorpe said.
Finding a thought
"You could use a sound or music or childhood memory as your pass. You could even flash someone an image to help them remember their passthought," she said.
Thorpe must still prove that people can reproduce clear, concise signals over and over.
"Often, unconscious thoughts, maybe a song in the back of your mind, may blur a signal. There's an awful lot going on in people's heads," she said.
Also, current brain-computer interfaces are not yet up to the task.
The latest electroencephalogram hardware, which measures electrical signals in the brain, consists of a costly bowl-shaped cap dotted with electrodes that takes time to put on and requires a gel be smeared on the person's head to bridge the gap between the electrodes and their scalp.
"It's not very fashionable, looks like a polka-dot swimming cap," Thorpe said, noting how refinements are in the works.